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EADS To Absorb Astrium Launcher Interests

By | January 31, 2001

      EADS (European Aviation, Defence and Space) Launch Vehicles, the former Aerospatiale unit under Phillippe Couillard based in Les Mureaux near Paris, is in the process of implementing the reorganisation of its activities.

      It seems probable that this will involve the incorporation in EADS-LV of the German launcher business based in Bremen, and also the avionics-bay production for Ariane launchers, primarily the responsibility of Astrium France at Toulouse. Likewise Eurockot (Astrium/Khrunichev) and Starsem (the Franco-Russian venture using the Soyuz launcher) are also likely to be transferred to EADS.

      It has also been suggested that the whole of Astrium’s orbital infrastructures activities – principally development of the Columbus Orbital Infrastructure for the International Space Station, also series production of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), a reusable logistics module – will likewise be transferred to EADS, leaving Astrium as essentially a satellite manufacturer only. But this has still to be resolved, says EADS.

      It should be pointed out that the former Dasa is already part of EADS, so it could be said that the reorganisation is largely cosmetic. The main difference is that BAE Systems does not have a share in EADS, but does in both Astrium and the Airbus Integrated Company. It is difficult to see how great economies could result from the change, though reporting relationships might be simplified. It should be noted that Ariane primary power plant manufacturer SNECMA is not affected by the reorganisation.

      The background to this story is that Arianespace posted its first ever loss in 2000, as reported in Interspace (issue 710, January 17). It now emerges that one of the contributory factors – a months-long shutdown of launches this past spring/summer due to unavailability of satellites contracted for flight – might well be repeated this year. This could lead to a possible negative figure for this year as well. This situation remains despite a record for launch orders booked last year, for launching 16 satellites plus nine ATV missions booked by ESA. However, these missions will for the most part be flown after 2001.

      The latest batch of orders, booked just before the end of last year, were for four satellites spanning the available mass spectrum: DirecTV-4S at five tonnes, two Insats (3A and 3E) at around two tonnes each, and Israel’s Amos-2 at a ‘mere’ 1.3 tonnes. The total Arianespace order book stands at 49 launches, for a total listed value of some E4.45 billion.

      The company may be grateful for the arrival, and subsequent impeccable performance, of its new heavy-lifter Ariane 5. This is, or will prove, valuable for lofting ever-heavier satellites, such as Telesat’s Anik-F2, at a shade under six tonnes. But this satellite is not even planned to fly until late 2002. By the time it does, the US EELV rockets – Delta 4 and Atlas 5 – should be beginning to make their appearance.

      Still, the history of Delta III (which still has to earn a cent) might suggest that their service entry will not necessarily be trouble free. Neither, for that matter, was Ariane 5’s.

      More crucial for Arianespace has been the need to rely on the continuing presence of Ariane 4 (AR4), which certainly adds to infrastructure costs at Kourou. With the ever- growing mass of communications satellites, AR4 is becoming almost exclusively a single-bird carrier: all eight launches using AR4 last year except one were of single satellites. This is definitely not an economical way of conducting a launch business, even though AR4s cost less individually than AR5s, at present. Ariane 4 is likely to remain in service for another two years at least, until around early 2003.

      The reason for retaining AR4 in service is in part the scarcity of AR5s and their current high cost. Those now being used come from the first batch of 14 examples. Subsequently a second batch of 20 was ordered at a committed unit price 35 per cent lower. Now it is planned to achieve a further 15 per cent cost reduction (ie, half that of the first batch) with the third round of orders.

      Whether this can be achieved with the current Arianespace contractor system has to be open to doubt. Ariane is the victim of its origin. Contractors are scattered around Europe, beneficiaries of the ESA “fair return” policy of awarding contracts as closely as possible matching the governmental inputs to the cost of developing the launcher. The UK put nothing into Ariane 5, so – in principle – its industries get nothing out of it. This might be ‘fair’, but it doesn’t make for a cheaper product.

      Jean-Paul Bechat, chairman of the principal power plant contractor SNECMA, has pointed out that no fewer than seven contractors are involved in making such an apparently simple structure as the AR5 solid booster.

      More evidence emerged last year over the Vinci cryogenic engine planned for the most powerful (almost 12 tonne lift capacity) ESC-B version, not due for flight until 2005. The former Dasa plant at Bremen, now part of Astrium, built the storable-propellant upper stage for the initial AR5 now flying, and so thought it was a shoo-in to develop Vinci.

      Then Pratt&Whitney of the US offered to collaborate with SNECMA on a joint version of Vinci which might well find customers in the US as well. The German component of Astrium protested at this loss of workload, with the result that ESA decided to keep the job in Europe.

      Now SNECMA (and Astrium) admits that it will be impossible to develop Vinci while maintaining the 10 per cent cost reduction demanded by Arianespace; the best that can be hoped for is a 5 per cent reduction, possibly closer to 3 per cent or less (but over what? Vinci doesn’t yet exist).

      SNECMA also reports difficulties – and presumably higher costs – in adapting the existing cryogenic stage from AR4 to work on the interim ESC-A version of AR5.

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